The recently passed half-cent sales tax increase for Cullman County is allowing the Cullman County School Board to begin work on projects that were originally set for a few years down the road.

During Thursday night's board meeting, a change order was approved for an existing project for the Holly Pond cafeteria which will replace the ceiling and installation of LED lighting, along with the installation of more resilient Hardie board siding instead of vinyl.

The original plan for the was just the replacement of the heating and air systems, but passage of the new tax means plans could be moved up, Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette said.

"We were changing out the HVAC systems there, but now we're going to be able to change out the ceiling and the lighting and some of those things that we're really excited about," he said. "At the time, we didn't have the money to do that additional alternative, and now we do."

The added tax revenue means more projects like the Holly Pond cafeteria can begin sooner than originally planned, Barnette said.

"Things that were scheduled to happen over a three or four year time span can now be done in a year or two," he said.

Safety improvements are also on the list of future projects with the new tax revenue, including more fencing around campuses and an integrated camera system across the county, along with some additional features, Barnette said.

"We're going to spend quite a bit on safety," he said. "I just talked with Sheriff [Matt] Gentry about hiring two additional school resource officers that will be on schools that have campuses that are spread out a little more."

Barnette said some of the plans for the revenue also include the construction of new buildings on campuses across the county. The first new building to be constructed is a new home economics building at Holly Pond High School, which will also add two new classrooms along with the home ec facility.

That project is being reviewed by the state department right now, and will hopefully be ready to go out to bid in the near future, he said.

Barnette said the board has some additional facility plans already, and he is currently speaking with principals, teachers and parents about some of the needs on school campuses that can be met with the new tax revenue.

"All of our improvements won't happen the first year, but we're going to start be able to knock out some of these projects that we're really excited about," he said.

In other business, the board also presented its April e5 Exceptional Service Awards, which are awarded each month to teachers, students, volunteers or anyone on a school campus who goes above and beyond in their day-to-day actions.

Because many of the March recipients were unable to attend last month's regular meeting due to severe weather, they were also recognized Thursday evening. The March recipients were the Child Development Center's Kerrie McKluskey, Holly Pond High School's Chelsie Allredge, Good Hope Elementary's Sara Kirkpatrick and Vinemont High School's Ted Nesmith.

April's e5 Exceptional Service Award recipients were West Point Elementary's Freda Coleman, Vinemont Elementary's Crystal McGraw, Fairview schools' Jeff Lawson and Hanceville Elementary second grader Aistin Gable.

Gable, who is the first student to receive the award since its inception earlier this year, was recognized for his work using his own money and encouraging others to donate money to the Hanceville lunchroom to pay off other students' debt.

By raising money on his own by selling some of his toys or asking for donations from others, he has raised $650 for his fellow students' lunch debts, Barnette said.

"He is an outstanding student with a big heart," he said.

Barnette encouraged anyone who is interested in donating to Aistin's campaign to contact Hanceville Elementary School for more information, and thanked him for the work that he has done.

"Aistin, you serve as an example for all of us," he said.

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